Saturday, May 8, 2010

Words and Other Fun Stuff

Language fascinates me. If you have spent 20 seconds here on any given day, then you know that the bridge from fascination to intelligent usage has been "OUT" in the over sized velodrome atop my shoulders for some time. Nevertheless, it does not stop a boy from dreaming.

I am fascinated by the use of words - both in a private sense (such as conversation or a letter) and in the public sense (such as on a marquee or a store front or in an advertisement or announcement). I am a bit frightened that the language center in our brain and the part of the brain that controls our thumbs operate at cross-purposes to one another, which is why the faster we text, the less it seems that we know how to articulate whole thoughts to one another.

Perhaps the more that we rely on the text message with its own highly-stylized system of abbreviations and pseudo-acronyms, the lazier we become about articulating our thoughts in complete words and full sentences? A week ago Friday I was in court. While all of the lawyers who had a motion pending before the judge were waiting for the session to begin, a number of us were chatting with one another. One of the folks I was standing near said something funny. A few of us laughed. One of our group instead responding by saying, "LOL". How lazy has one become when one offers a "LOL" in lieu of an actual laugh....while standing in the immediate vicinity of the person who uttered the original humorous line?

Language usage is fun to consider, to contemplate and to study because it is a never-ending source of entertainment and occasional amusement. As a guy I find it incredible that there is a women's clothing store named "dress barn". Judging by the number of them I see when I drive around and the foot traffic in and out of them, presumably it is a chain of stores that does pretty well. Yet I cannot help but wonder who it was who green-lighted a store name that conjures up an image (at least in my mind's eye) of farm animals and tractors for a target audience that is female. Then again, perhaps that is not the target demographic. There are after all also stores identified as "dress barn Woman", which seems a tad redundant. I presume that the intended customers at "the barn" itself are women. The "woman" is understood as it were; right? Or is "the barn" a shopper's haven solely for cross-dressers while "the barn woman" is a ladies-only affair? I find myself hoping very, very much that it is the former.

Consider the language on if not all then the overwhelming majority of "No Parking" signs you have ever encountered on private property, whether commercial or residential. You are warned not only that your vehicle might be towed if it is left there illegally but that the towing will be (wait for it) at "the vehicle owner's expense". No duh; right? If I park illegally on your property and you foot the bill for Skate playing the part of the automotive interloper, then you have cut in half my disincentive for disregarding your "no parking" sign. Is it necessary to specify that the cost of removal will be borne by the owner of the car? Have we so dumbed ourselves down that we require hand-holding all the way across the sentence's finish line?

Perhaps we do. 'NTSG over on Lincoln Boulevard we have a Pathmark grocery store. While it is not my store of choice - I do not do our weekly grocery shopping there - it is just around the corner from our house so occasionally the Missus and me will do the pop in there to pick up a few things. As is the case with every grocery store in which I have ever shopped, the Pathmark has a seemingly endless amount of signage advertising items that are on sale at any particular time.

One would think that the process of making a sign advertising a particular item as being on sale - and thereafter placing said sign in front of said item - would be an idiot-proof operation; right? Not so at the Pathmark. About a month ago Margaret and I were in there and one of the "Special" items that week was a 5 pound bag of sugar (I forget what brand's sugar but it is not important for this story). There was a display at an aisle's end with the biggest assemblage of sugar I have ever seen in my life. And there, directly in front of it, on a big yellow sign written in big, block, black letters was "SUGER - 5 POUND BAG". The other night Margaret and I ran over there because she wanted to pick up something. We ended up in the seasonal aisle (a/k/a the aisle where this time of year you find BBQ stuff, beach bags, etc.) Among the items prominently displayed were solar-powered lights, which you can use to line your walkway. (As an aside, do not ever buy them unless you live in the Mojave Desert or some such place because you never get enough sunlight to keep them adequately powered.) There was shelf after shelf of solar lights. Directly in front of one company's packages - boxes all readily identifiable by the words "solar lights" written on them - was a big yellow sign on which the Pathmark had written in big, block, black letters "SOALAR LIGHTS". What is the likelihood of entrusting one who can apparently neither (a) read, nor (b) spell with the task of creating the signage in one's supermarket? In your neighborhood perhaps not so good but 'NTSG it appears to be considerably higher. Here is a friendly, unsolicited tip for the good folks at the Pathmark including the one responsible for murdering the English language on the store's signage and the higher-up who is an accessory to the crime by entrusting this assignment to one so obviously overmatched by it: when life gives you a lay-up, take the ball to the hoop strong. Do not pass up the easy deuce for something less certain.

I am eternally grateful that genuinely silly stuff such as abuse of language goes on in the world every day. Life is, after all, the ultimate simultaneous participation event/spectator sport. Where would we be without such readily available amusement? I know not. But I know where I am since it is here for me.......



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